Mark Reviews Movies

Project Almanac

PROJECT ALMANAC

1  Stars (out of 4)

Director: Dean Israelite

Cast: Jonny Weston, Sofia Black-D'Elia, Sam Lerner, Allen Evangelista, Ginny Gardner, Amy Landecker, Gary Weeks

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for some language and sexual content)

Running Time: 1:46

Release Date: 1/30/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | January 30, 2015

Time travel opens up a realm of possibilities. Imagine the things you could see, the people you could meet, and the events you could witness. If you're not too worried about changing the course of history and the ramifications of such tinkering, think of all the horrible moments you could prevent in the world or even just in your own life.

Now that you have the limitless potential of time travel in mind, Project Almanac insists that you lower your expectations. No, you should lower them further than that. For some context of how low your expectations should be for the use of time travel here, the movie's centerpiece is the group of temporal adventurers going to a music festival. If this is representative of the ambitions of the next generation, we may be doomed as a species.

There's at least a half-baked reason as to why the heroes have such a limited scope for their journeys through time. It's that the time machine they build only allows them to go so far back in time. At first it's three weeks, so that leaves the whole "killing Hitler" idea out of the mix.

The hero explains that going back any further would mean they would end up trapped in the past. You might be wondering why that's the case, and one of his buddies actually asks our hero that question. He responds, "I'll explain it to you later." It should not come as a surprise that the explanation never actually comes. To be fair, though, that might simply be the hero rationalizing that "later" never really arrives when you're jumping back and forth through time.

It's probably better for movies about time travel to leave the long-winded explanations alone. They're tedious and usually pseudo-scientific gobbledygook. Furthermore, no matter how extensively explained the rules and the process and the limitations may be, it's inevitable that a movie dealing with something that is intrinsically a paradox will break the rules, mess up the process, and exceed the limitations. There is a middle ground, though, between over-explanation and a complete lack of anything remotely resembling an explanation. Andrew Stark and Jason Pagan's screenplay errs on the side of the latter, because its priorities are on ensuring that we see our protagonists spend a day at a music festival.

The problem with this approach, of course, is that the movie seems to be making up the rules, the process, and the limitations of its version of time travel as it goes. There's a scene in which David (Jonny Weston), the MIT-bound hero, attempts to diagram the various jumps and the rippling effect that each one has had on the timeline. His frustration with the seeming impossibility of mapping out everything that has happened is the movie's most honest moment.

One imagines that the scene, which ends with David just giving up on the whole thing, resembles the method of writing the screenplay. Surely director Dean Israelite had to have had more than a few moments of just giving up on the movie's structure in the editing room. Hence, we get about 20 minutes of the characters having fun at a music festival and maybe around 30 seconds of someone trying to explain what's actually happening here.

The short of it is that David, trying to find inspiration for an invention that could win him a scholarship to go to MIT, digs through his late father's stuff. He discovers that his dad had the components and the blueprints for building a time machine in the basement. He, his sister Christina (Ginny Gardner), and his friends Quinn (Sam Lerner) and Adam (Allen Evangelista) decide to build the thing with parts acquired from the local hardware store and a video game console.

Jessie (Sofia Black-D'Elia), the only girl at school who'll admit to knowing David's name (making her the de facto love interest here), later tags along and encourages David to skip the pesky testing-to-make-sure-this-is-safe phase. The friends go back in time to help Quinn pass a test, stop Christina from being bullied, win the lottery, and, in case one has forgotten, spend an inordinate amount of time at a music festival. Obviously, all the time-leaping has consequences, which means David has to go back repeatedly on his own to try to fix things (It is amusing how he gets a girlfriend but misses out on the fun part). That only makes matters worse.

Ultimately, the characters' goals are too selfish to carry any weight and too dull to maintain much interest in their adventures. They have too narrow a view of the potential of time travel, and Project Almanac follows that view in lockstep.

Copyright 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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